Sunday, April 16, 2017

`Some Temperamental Undercurrent'

“Certain writers inspire affection in their readers that cannot be explained either by their work or by the facts of their lives. It proceeds from some temperamental undercurrent, some invisible connection between the writer and the reader that is more available to the senses and the emotions than to the mind.”

The notable word is “affection.” More than mere acquaintance, not quite love, certainly not passion. One easily feels affection for children not one’s own, and for cats and other animals. Affection suggests fondness, tenderness, warmth. It’s spontaneous, never calculated, difficult to feign convincingly, easily sentimentalized. There’s something almost passive about affection. It happens, and one can’t make it happen (rather like love). Howard Moss in “Notes on Fiction” (Minor Monuments,1986) identifies an important and rarely recognized relation between writers and serious readers. Across a lifetime of reading, a handful of writers become trusted companions whose company we depend on. We even confide in them. Moss continues:

“Bookish affections of this kind are deceptive and irrelevant, yet they truly exist. For me, Colette, Keats, and Chekhov inspire affection. Faulkner, Shelley, and Ibsen do not.”

Moss, a poet and longtime poetry editor of The New Yorker, is wrong. Such things are neither deceptive nor irrelevant. Readers live for such relationships. For me, Dr. Johnson, A.J. Liebling and Philip Larkin inspire affection. So do Chekhov and Daniel Fuchs. Pope, Joyce and Frost do not, though I admire their work.  

1 comment:

Di said...

What about Tolstoy, George Eliot and Henry James, the writers you consider to be the best in the 19th century, if I remember correctly?
And Melville?